Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Swanzey’

Over the course of the almost 5 years that I’ve had this blog I’ve seen many things that have gotten my goat. That’s New England Yankee speak for something that angers you, by the way.  Anyhow, I’ve decided that keeping my mouth shut about these annoyances is accomplishing nothing except allowing them to continue, so I welcome you to the first installment of Things that get my goat. Maybe I’ll hear from others who are also bothered by these things. I can’t be the only one.

1. Gomarlo's Market

At one time there was a small grocery store that stood very close to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, New Hampshire. You wouldn’t have had to walk too far behind the car in this 1952 photo to have reached the covered bridge that crossed the river, and still crosses it today. Not too long ago, a couple of years I think, I watched this building being torn down and it was then that I heard rumors of a town park being built on the property. I didn’t have a good feeling about that.

2. Terracing

The park, as it stands now, seems to consist of granite block terracing and an expanse of crab grass. It reminds me of an amphitheater, but if you sat on these granite blocks you would look out on more crabgrass, so I’m not sure amphitheater is the right word.

3. Fake Stone Wall

The park is sunken below street level and the retaining wall where it meets the street was once part of the foundation of the store in the first photo. Now concrete blocks that are supposed to look like stone are used as a retaining wall.

4. Fencing

A new fence was installed and it makes sense because there is a 7-8 foot drop from street level down to where the riverbank starts.

5. Cut Embankment

What doesn’t make sense is what was done to the riverbank. All of the shrubs and wildflowers that once grew there have been cut down, and what is left is an ugly scar.

6. Ashuelot Wildflowers

This photo I took last year shows what this section of the river bank once looked like. There were lupines, ox-eye daisy, birds foot trefoil, asters, yarrow, goldenrod, button bush, silky dogwood, smooth and staghorn sumacs, Virginia creeper, and many other plants and shrubs that were important to the birds, waterfowl and other wildlife in the area.

7. Thompson Bridge

One of the things Swanzey is known for its covered bridges. This one was built in 1832 and is called the Thompson Bridge, named after the playwright Denmon Thompson, who lived in town. Of open lattice design, it has been called the most beautiful covered bridge in New England and it draws a lot of tourists to the area. Tourists easily translate to income and the cutting has opened up the view so they can see the bridge better. I understand that; it seems like a valid reason. But what I can’t understand is why all of these plants had to be butchered back to ground level when more selective cutting would have opened up the view and left a riverbank overflowing with blooming shrubs, vines, and wildflowers. Why not have someone who knows what they’re doing come and at the very least give their opinion about what should be done before just hacking away at it?

8. Ashuelot Wildflowers

Because what once looked like this…

9. Butchery

…now looks like this. I doubt very much that tourists are going to be drawn to this. Are there more “improvements” in store, I wonder? I have to say that I hope not. Over there on the upper right is where one of only two examples of chicory plants that I knew of grew. The beautiful blue flowers would have pleased the tourists more than this empty riverbank, I think.

10. Silky Dogwood

At this time of year the beautiful blue berries of silky dogwood hung out over the water.

11. Cedar Waxwing

You might say “big deal, sumacs and silky dogwoods grow everywhere, so who cares if we cut a few of them down?” Well, the cedar waxwing in the above photo probably cares. They rely heavily on silky dogwood berries at this time of year and when I was on the bridge watching one recent evening he and many of his cousins kept flying to where the shrubs used to be, as if they couldn’t figure out why there were no berries there. Who knows how many generations of birds have been taught to forage here?

And that’s saying nothing about the 25 species of ducks and 28 species of birds that feed on buttonbush seeds. Or the robins, bluebirds, crows, mockingbirds and 300 species of songbirds that feed on the sumac berries. Or the raccoons, rabbits, muskrats and squirrels that used the shrubs for cover and food. Or the birds that nest in the thickets the shrubs create. Or the bees, butterflies and other insects that feed on the wildflowers.

As John Muir once said: When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

12. Cedar Waxwing

The saddest and most ironic part of this story is, I think, how just a few hundred yards downriver on the other side of the bridge a 250 year old timber crib dam was torn down in 2010. At the time that section of river bank was also “improved” and good money was paid by taxpayers to plant native shrubs and trees there. Many of the shrubs that were planted are silky dogwoods!

So here we are on one side of the bridge spending tax dollars to plant silky dogwood while on the other side of the bridge, just a couple of hundred yards away, we’re busy paying more tax dollars to cut them all down. I’m sure this must make sense to someone somewhere who probably wouldn’t know a dogwood from a dandelion, but it makes absolutely no sense to me.

13. Uncut Riverbank

Just as ironic is how most of the native wildflowers were cut and good sized patches of purple loosestrife, one of the most invasive plants that we have in this area, were left standing. There are still one or two goldenrods, asters and smartweeds growing here but they won’t be able to compete against the loosestrife. It will eventually win out.  Instead of using it to cut down native plants would the money be better spent trying to eradicate invasive species along the river bank? There are many, including Japanese barberry, burning bush, and oriental bittersweet. They’ve taken over the woodland just downriver from here.

14. Clouded Sulfur Butterfly

Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance. ~Theodore Roosevelt

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

1. Sign

I have helpers that readers of this blog don’t ever hear from and who I don’t thank enough. They send me corrections when I’ve misidentified plants, reveal the names of plants that I don’t know, and pass along tips about places that might be worth a visit. One of the places mentioned recently was Dickinson Memorial Forest in Swanzey, which was once owned by a prominent local family. Since I’d heard of it but had never been I decided to visit.

2. Gate Posts

When you’ve reached this point you have a choice to make; you can turn right and follow the trail into the forest or you can follow this old road into Muster Field, so named because volunteer firemen used to muster and train here. I followed both but my first choice was through these old gate posts.

3. Road

I chose the old road because it follows the Ashuelot River which is off to the right, and because this is just the kind of place that I spent large parts of my boyhood exploring. Before I left this place my spirits had soared and I was feeling like a kid again and smiling from ear to ear. I’ve returned several times since because for me being out here is like walking into a time machine.

4. Striped Wintergreen

Old friends like striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) told me that this land has been this way without being disturbed for a very long time. I’ve read that this plant won’t grow on land that has been disturbed within the last century. It grows either in the woods or just at their edges; places where the plow wouldn’t have gone. I rarely see it and I think this is only the third or fourth place that I’ve found it. It’s very happy here and is going to bloom soon.

5. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, grew in a large colony here. This plant’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. It contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. The nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and very hard to get a good photo of.

6. River Bank

The river is doing what rivers do, which is eat away at their banks. Large sections of the silty embankment in this area have fallen into the river several times recently by the looks. In one spot it has fallen away right to the edge of the road. I drove out here one day not realizing just how close to the road the undercut embankment was, and I’m very lucky that my truck and I didn’t end up in the Ashuelot. Since then I haven’t driven past the gate posts in the second photo, but someone really should put signs warning people not to drive out here.

7. Canada Liliy

The reason I drove out here that day was because I was short on time and I wanted to see if the Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) that I saw on a previous visit were blooming. They weren’t then but they eventually did. I think that these plants succeed so well because they get tall enough to rise up above the surrounding vegetation to where the sunshine is. They soar to 7 feet tall sometimes and remind me of chandeliers at this stage.

In 1857 Henry David Thoreau was told by a Native American guide how the bulbs of this plant were cooked with meat in soups and stews to thicken them, much like flour does. Henry dug some and ate them raw, finding that they tasted somewhat like “raw green corn on the ear.” I’ve always been told that lilies were toxic when eaten so I’d say Henry was a lucky man. Cooking must remove the toxicity, which would explain how natives ate them regularly.

8. Canada Liliy

It’s nearly impossible to confuse the beautiful flowers of Canada lily with any other. Its large size, spotted throat, large red anthers and bright yellow petals and sepals make it unique among wildflowers in this area. We do have another native lily called the wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum,) but its blossoms are orange and point to the sky rather than nod like these do.

9. Canada Geese

A family of Canada geese relaxed on the far bank of the Ashuelot. This photo shows how low the water level is.

10. Turtle

A turtle was out for a stroll on the old road. She didn’t say where she was going but I’m assuming that she was looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She must have had quite a struggle to get up here from the river.

11. Spangled Fritillary

A spangled fritillary hid in the tall grass at the edge of the road. They and many other large butterflies love Canada lilies and like me were probably waiting impatiently for them to blossom.

12. Fallen Tree

In the Dickinson forest a dead tree had fallen across the trail and was hung up on some hemlock branches. This is a dangerous situation and I hope whoever maintains these trails will remove it. It wouldn’t take much of a breeze to blow it down and I hope there isn’t someone under it when it falls.

13. Bridge

A boardwalk and footbridge crossed a seasonal stream, which just a muddy ditch at this time of year.

14. Deer Print

I didn’t see any deer but I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw me. This hoof print looked very fresh.

15. Whorled Loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) grew all along the river. This pretty little flower has quite a long blooming season and it and its cousin the swamp candle (Lysimachia terrestris) can be seen in moist areas throughout the hottest months. Its common name comes from the way its flowers and leaves grow in a whorl about the stem. Native Americans brewed a medicinal tea from the stem and leaves of whorled loosestrife to alleviate kidney ailments.

The plant also played an important part in the American Revolution. According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee “With the Revolution came the refusal to drink the tea of commerce and our four leaved loosestrife, being dried and steeped, was used in its stead.” And that’s why another common name for the plant is “liberty tea.

16. False Hellebore

The biggest surprise here was finding false hellebore. It grew quite a distance from the river, which I thought was odd because it usually grows as close to water as it can. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in our forests. Eating just a small amount can be lethal and people have even gotten sick from drinking water that it grew in.

17. False Hellebore

Even more surprising than finding the false hellebore was finding that it was flowering. That told me that these plants had grown here undisturbed for quite a while. Only mature plants will blossom and can take 10 years or more to do so. The bright yellow anthers were missing so I knew these flowers had nearly gone by. I never realized that the flower’s green petals and sepals are as pleated as the leaves are. There are pairs of nectar glands at their bases and ants visit the flowers to feed on their sweet treats.

18. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots lined the river bank. There were thousands of them, far more than I’ve ever seen in one spot. Forget me nots or no, I won’t forget this place. In fact I’m having a hard time staying away.

A ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot or marsh…. These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.… Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land. ~ Robert Michael Pyle

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Road Start

For years, at least since I was a teenager, I’ve known about this blocked off road in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Though I’ve known for all that time that the road led into Yale forest I never knew why or where it ended up, so I decided to walk it recently and find out. Old abandoned roads can be fascinating places because you never know what you’ll find along them.

2. Sign

The forest is called Yale Forest because it is owned by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  Yale founded a School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in 1900 and owns parcels of forest all over New England. Alumni donated land to the school or it was bought and sometimes even traded, and over time good sized pieces of forest were put together. The first land was bought by the school in 1913 but this particular parcel dates from the 1920s or 30s. It is 1,930 acres in size.

The road was once called Dartmouth College Road because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. When the State Department of Transportation built what is now route 10 this section of road was abandoned and from what I gather by talking to the county forester and others, was taken over by Yale University. I’m not sure exactly how it worked but apparently, since they owned the land on both sides of the road it became theirs when it was abandoned by the state. In any event it is now considered a private road but Yale University is very good about letting locals use the forest for hiking and biking. Even their website says that the forest has a “park like atmosphere.”

3. Road

A forestry school can’t train foresters in proper forest management without a forest, so this is one of the places where they come to train, and part of that training includes how to maintain healthy woodlands. This parcel is mostly red and white pine that was planted or seeded naturally after the hurricane of 1938 blew down many of the trees that stood here, so none of it is original old growth forest.

4. Stone Wall

Stone walls crisscross everywhere you look and speak of the history of this place. At one time, in the 1800s most likely, this land was cleared for pasture and, judging by the rolling landscape and huge boulders, was probably used for sheep farming. Land like this wouldn’t have been any good for cattle and sheep farming was big business back then. Most of our hills and even Mount Monadnock were cleared right to their summits to create more pasture.

5. Vegetation Mat

I’ve been on a few abandoned roads and what struck me most about this one was how wide it is. It’s as if the forest had hardly encroached on it at all in the 85 or more years that a car hasn’t traveled on it.  Then I saw why; as the above photo shows, the mat of vegetation that grew into the road has been plowed back into the woods to maintain the road’s original width.

6. Skidders

And it’s a fair bet that this log skidder did the plowing.  It must seem to a logger like he has died and gone to heaven to have a paved road to travel on. Usually they’re up to their waists in mud.

7. Apple Blossoms

Apple trees are dotted here and there along the old roadway. Apple blossoms always remind me of my grandmother because I remember as a boy running up her stairs with near arm loads of apple blossoms because she loved their scent so. Of course, every blossom that I ran up those stairs with meant one less apple but those trees were more decorative than anything, and what a show they put on in the spring!

8. Starflowers

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) carpeted the woods just off the roadway. I have a contest with myself each year to see if I can find the starflower plant with the most flowers. This one had three, but my record is four and I’m always hoping for five. Starflowers are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but just to be different it can occasionally have eight petals like two of the flowers in this photo do, and I’ve seen photos of them with six petals. That’s just to remind me that always and never don’t apply in nature. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees.

9. Bluets

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew all along the sides of the road where it was sunny enough. Though this tiny wildflower is thought to be a spring ephemeral I’ve seen it bloom all summer long. I think it got the reputation for being an ephemeral because it often grows in lawns and once the lawn is mowed you don’t see the flowers any longer.

10. Plank Bridge

Beavers are active in these woods and dammed a small stream and made a pond, which then formed an outlet that ran across the old road and washed it out. I could tell that the road was here before the beavers dammed the stream by a stone wall that ran right into the beaver pond. The farmer never would have built his wall into the pond and under the water, so the beavers must have come later than the wall. The foresters have put these heavy, two inch thick planks over the washout to use as a temporary bridge.

11. Beaver Lodge

The beaver lodge looked abandoned and I didn’t see any signs of fresh tree felling. Beaver ponds are active for an average of 30 years and the first stage in creating one is damming a stream to form a pond. Our native trees aren’t meant to live with their roots under water because they take in a lot of oxygen through them, so finding living trees in an area like this would mean it was flooded recently. I didn’t see any, so this must be an older pond. Older beaver ponds fill with silt or the beavers move away and their dams erode enough to drain the land. In either case the beaver pond of today will eventually revert back to forest. When the forest has re-established itself and there are enough trees for the beavers to eat they will come back and again flood the land in a slow but ever repeating cycle.

12. Beaver Dam

The dam was still holding back water for the most part, but didn’t show any signs of recent activity on the part of the beavers.

 13. Male Mallard

Meanwhile, even though the beavers have moved away from their pond, many other kinds of wildlife still benefit from it. This one was shallow enough so all that a pair of mallards had to do was stick their heads in to feed, rather than tip their entire body up like they often do. They knew I was near and eyed me suspiciously but didn’t fly away like ducks usually seem to do.  He watched me while she fed, just in case.

14. Female Mallard 2

She spent most of the time feeding and I got shot after shot of a headless duck, but eventually was finally able to at least get her profile when she began preening. She was such a pretty bird.

 15. Log Pile

I was surprised by how small the logs were. The biggest and oldest at the bottom I doubt was even 50 years old. I wonder where they go and what becomes of them once they leave here.

16. Trail

You can tell by the trees left standing that the foresters are being very selective in what they cut, and are thinning the forest rather than cutting everything in sight. This kind of care benefits the overall health of a forest, especially since we no longer dare let forest fires burn themselves out. We have 4.8 million acres of forest In New Hampshire and a hundred years ago much of it was cleared for pasture land, so we are an excellent example of how nature reclaims the land. Man and nature can work together for the benefit of both, but it takes great care, thought and planning.

17. Killer Tree

Several trees had these “killer tree” ribbons on them and of course, me being me, I had to find out what they were all about. From what I’ve read they warn loggers that the tree is dead, diseased or has some other condition that might cause it to fall. It essentially says “stay away because this tree could fall on you.” Of course I found all of that out after standing five feet from the killer trees, taking their photos.

18. Striped Maple

One tree I’m always happy to get close to is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) especially when it is flowering. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.  The loose hanging flower clusters (racemes) usually hang under the leaves but will occasionally rest on top of a leaf like this one did. They sway in the slightest breeze and can be difficult to get a good photo of.

19. Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. People sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

20. Sarsaparilla 2

In botanical terms the flower head of a wild sarsaparilla plant is called a globoid umbel. The umbel is made up of around 40 small white flowers that seem to burst from the center on long, pale green stalks (pedicels).  The flowers have five petals but I find them too small to be seen by eye. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and pollination is usually very successful; every time I’ve taken a photo of a wild sarsaparilla plant there has been an insect on it. This time is no different; I’m not sure what he is but he’s black and tiny and rests about two flowers above center at 12 o’clock.

21. Violets

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) lined the old road along with the bluets and starflowers and made the walk that much more pleasant.

22. End of the Road

I wondered where the old road came out but wasn’t too surprised to find myself on the edge of the “new” route 10. This is the road that replaced the abandoned one way back in the 20s or 30s. It’s a busy road and I had to stand here for a while to get a shot of it with no cars on it.

 23. Opposite Side of Forest

Just a short walk down route 10 from where the old road meets the new is one of my favorite views that I’ve driven past and seen out of the corner of my eye for over 20 years. Now I know what’s on the other side of it in the distance; a beaver pond.  Amazing what you can discover with just a little persistence.

Note: The photos for this post were taken over the course of a month or more, so if you think everything is a little greener at the end of the post than it was at the beginning, you’re not imagining it.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Tippin Rock Sign

I’ve heard a lot over the years about 912 foot Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey New Hampshire and about the 40 ton glacial erratic boulder that sits atop it, so recently I decided to finally climb up and see it for myself. It’s called Tippin Rock because according to legend “with a shove of your shoulder under the right spot” you can make 40 tons of granite rock gently, like a baby’s cradle.

2. Close Trail

The trail starts out as little more than a game trail, single file narrow, until it widens just a little as the above photo shows. Even though it’s a little wider here than where it started it’s still one person wide. Tall tree seedlings crowd in on both sides, obscuring any view into the forest.

3. Trail Widening

Finally it widens out to road width and steepens, and you can see deep into the forest ahead and on both sides. When bears are fattening up for hibernation I feel a lot more comfortable on a trail like this than I do on a close, winding trail where you can only see a few feet directly in front of you. There is less chance of being surprised.

4. Violet Toothed Polypore aka Trichaptum biformis

I found some violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) growing on a log. I don’t see these very often so I wasn’t thinking about getting a shot of the undersides, which are toothed. I like their purple edges.

5. White Coral Fungi

I also saw coral mushrooms (Ramariopsis kunzei) as white as the snow that will soon cover them. I always wonder how something that has just come up out of the ground can be so clean. Coral fungi get their name from the corals that grow under the sea.

6. Trail

Before too long the canopy thins and sunlight gets through, and you know that you’re near the top.

7. Tippin Rock Sign

The sign proves it. I had to laugh at the way it stated (and pointed to) the obvious.

8. Tippin Rock

So this is Tippin Rock? It’s only as big as a delivery van, so I wouldn’t have guessed. It’s a good thing the sign was there!

A glacial erratic is defined as “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests.” You have to wonder where this one came from.

9. Tippin Rock Underside

Of course I immediately (before anyone could see) “got my shoulder under” every likely spot on the 40 ton behemoth and shoved and grunted and sweated and swore, but I couldn’t get it to move. I crawled under it to see what made it tick and found that, as the photo shows, it has a keel much like a boat. Who would have ever guessed that a glacier could set a 40 ton boulder down on a sheet of granite on a mountain top, in exactly the right position so it would rock back and forth? At least, it rocks for people who know the secret. I thought about finding a log and prying it, but then decided that doing so would be cheating. It would be hard to claim that I had tipped Tippin Rock knowing that I had cheated.

10. Old Photo of Tippin Rock

Did this lady tip it, I wonder? Actually, maybe I’m better off not knowing. I found this photo on line and what I find most interesting about it is how the visible side of the boulder is covered with rock tripe lichens. Rock tripe is a lichen that loves to grow on very large boulders and it can often be found on mountain and hill tops. It’s similar to toadskin lichen which we will see a little later. The lady’s outfit and the fact that the first really affordable camera-the Kodak Brownie-came out some time around 1900, means that it’s very safe to assume that a hundred years ago there were lichens on this rock face.

 11. Tippin Rock

So where did all the lichens go? This is the same face of the boulder shown in the previous circa 1900 photo, and it’s as clean as if it had been scrubbed. Did the trees grow and shade them out? Did they all die and just fall off? Did the weather wash them away? Tests have shown that lichens are tough enough to survive even the vacuum of space and tenacious enough to etch glass for a foothold, so how and why they disappeared from this rock face is a real mystery.

I leaned my monopod against it to give you an idea of how big this stone really is. Fully extended the monopod is about 6 feet long. I’m guesstimating the boulder is about 9-10 feet high, 18-20 feet long and 8-9 feet wide.

 12. Ledges

After you’ve worn yourself out trying to tip Tippin Rock you can follow a small side trail that leads to a lookout, and these cliffs are one of the things you pass on the way. Though it doesn’t look it in the photo it must have been 30 feet or more to the top. I wasn’t able to back away from them for a better angle because there was another even longer drop behind me which it wouldn’t have been good to test. People come up here to rock climb, and I can see why.

13. Toadskin Lichen

Toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) decorated several boulders and I was happy to see it. This makes two places that I’ve found it now. Both take quite a climb to get to, so I wonder if altitude plays a part in where it will grow. It had just rained the night before so these examples were plump, pliable, and pea green. The black parts are their fruiting bodies (Apothecia) and these lichens were fruiting heavily.

14. Ledge View

The views from up here look south toward Massachusetts and are some of the best I’ve seen. This is a place that makes you feel small and that’s a good feeling to have every now and then. Sometimes feeling small reminds us just how big the universe is.

15. Ledge View

This beautiful view, taken as I had my back against the boulder that the toadskin lichens grew on, is my favorite. Every time I look out over such vast expanses of unbroken forest I realize that I’m seeing fairly close to what the early settlers would have seen. I wonder what they thought when they climbed a hill and found something like this before them. How daunting it must have been to know that you had to carve a homestead out of that wilderness with a single axe-your most valuable possession. I can’t help but wonder what I would have done. Would I have had the strength and courage to go on or would I have turned around and gone back to where I came from?  Still more questions which (thankfully) I’ll never find the answers to.

A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him and leaving something of himself upon it. ~Martin Conway.

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

 

1. Ashuelot River

Canada geese are flying in pairs up and down the Ashuelot River again and the ice that covered it for a while in this spot has melted. The deep snow that has kept me off its banks has melted enough so it is once again possible to explore, and it’s a great feeling because I’ve missed being there. The going can still be difficult though. Just after I snapped the above photo we saw snow squalls, so these shots had to be taken over 2 or 3 days.

2. Hollow Grass Stem

One of the first things I saw was a broken grass stem, so I thought I’d see how close I could get with my camera.

3. Black Eyed Susan Seed Head

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) still have plenty of seeds on them.  With a winter like the one we’ve just had I would expect every food source to be stripped clean but there are still large amounts of natural bird feed out there.  I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe it happens every year and I’ve just never noticed.

 4. Cord Glaze Moss aka Entodon seductrix

 Something I haven’t seen here before was a large clump of cord glaze moss (Entodon seductrix). This moss is a sun lover and it was growing on a stone in full sun. It is also called glossy moss because of the way it shines. Its leaves become translucent when wet and a little shinier when dry, but unlike many other mosses its appearance doesn’t change much between its wet and dry states.

5. Bitter Wart Lichen

Bitter wart lichen (Pertusaria amara) is a rarity here. The only one I know of grows on the limb of an old dead American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) tree that still stands near the river. When I went to visit this lichen I noticed with dismay that all of the bark is falling from the dead limb that it grows on, so this might be that last shot I get of this particular example.

6. Bitter Wart Lichen Closeup

This close up shot of the bitter wart lichen shows the darker gray, deeply fissured body (thallus) and whitish fruiting bodies (apothecia) that erupt from it. The apothecia look like warts and are how this lichen gets its common name. From what I’ve read about this lichen the apothecia are rarely fertile, and that might explain why I’ve only seen just this one. The “bitter” part of the common name comes from its bitter taste. Not that I’ve tasted it-I just take the lichenologist’s word for it.

7. Dry Deer Tongue Grass

There is a lot of dead deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) showing in places, all beaten down by the heavy snow load. This grass is tough and it amazes me how this can all just disappear into the soil in just a few short months. This grass gets its common name from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue.

8. White Pine Buds

White pines (Pinus strobus) are showing signs of sticky new growth. In his writings Henry David Thoreau mentioned the white pine more than any other tree, and once wrote of being able to see distant hills after climbing to the top of one. The tallest one on record was about 180′ tall.

9. Staghorn Sumac Buds

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) grow along the edges of the woods that line the river and their buds are swelling. Up close the hairy, first year branches of this tree look more animal than plant. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what it feels like.

10. Staghorn Sumac Inner Bark

Along this stretch of river is where the inner bark on dead staghorn sumacs is a bright, reddish orange color. I’ve looked at dead sumacs in other locations and have never seen any others with bark this color. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. If you’re reading this and know something about sumac bark I’d love to hear from you.

11. Witch Hazel Seed Pods

Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) also line the banks of the Ashuelot in this area. This is a shot of the recently opened seed pods, which explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never am.

12. Poison Ivy Berries

There are no man made trails here but there is a very narrow game trail which in places is crowded by poison ivy plants (Toxicodendron radicans) on both sides, so I always wear long pants when I come here. Even with longs pants one early spring I knelt to take a photo of a wildflower and must have landed right on some poison ivy because my knees itched for two weeks afterward. I’m lucky that the rash stays right on the body part that contacted the plant and doesn’t spread like it does on most people. In the above photo are the plant’s berries looking a little winter beaten, but which will also give you a rash if you touch them.  This is a good plant to get to know intimately if you plan on spending much time in the woods because every part of it, in winter or summer, will make you itch like you’ve never itched before.

 12. Ashuelot Waves

The river seems so happy now that the dam that stood here for more than 250 years is gone. Trout and other fish have returned. Eagles once again fish it, ducks and geese swim in it, and all manner of animals visit its shores.

I can remember when the Ashuelot ran a different color each day because of the dyes that the woolen mills discharged directly into it. I’ve seen it run orange, purple, and everything in between. It was very polluted at one time but thankfully it was cleaned up and today tells a story of not only how we nearly destroyed it, but also how we saved it. Knowing what I do of its history, it’s hard not to be happy when I walk its banks.

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it. ~Chinese philosopher

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Last fall I climbed a local mountain named Mount Caesar, which was named for Caesar Freeman, a freed slave who farmed this land in the 1700s. Last Saturday I had the urge to climb it again so, in spite of several inches of snow, up I went.

1. Mt. Caesar Lower Trail

You can read about last fall’s hike and learn more about the history of this mountain by clicking here. This time the trail was more like a stream-very wet in several places. But at least it wasn’t icy!

 2. Lesser Plait Moss aka Hypnum pallescens

In several places along the trail the sun had melted the snow and lesser plait moss (Hypnum pallescens) grew on the stones in the weak, early spring sunshine. Like the brocade moss I showed in the last post, this moss looks like its leaves were braided along each stem.  The light green, curling leaf tips help to identify this one.

 3. Lichen 3 on Tree

The green shield lichens growing in the shape of a 3 are still on this tree, and I’m still not sure what it is they’re saying.

4. Beech Leaf on Snow

By far the worst part of this climb was the wind, which was bending the tops of the smaller trees and making the stoutest ones groan and creak. It was also stripping all of last year’s beech leaves from those trees, and I wouldn’t have taken this hike if the weatherman had warned of it. Instead he said that we would have a “breeze.’”  At what point, I have to wonder, is a breeze considered a wind-anything more than 50 miles per hour?

5. Mt. Caesar Upper Trail

But I had reached the point where the tree tops thin out and start to give way to blue sky. If I had made it this far without a tree falling on me I reasoned, I might as well go all the way.

 6. Bleeding Woodpecker Hole in Maple

This maple tree bleeding sap told me that a woodpecker had been here not too long ago. I didn’t hear his tapping over the crunch of the snow as I was climbing, so I don’t think he left because of me.

7. Log

This log lying on its side along the path is huge and always reminds me of the giant redwoods I have read about in books like The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston. I always wonder if this hole in it was made by a woodpecker 200 or so years ago.

8. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen aka Caloplaca feracissima

I found this orange sidewalk fire dot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) growing on a boulder where it would get afternoon sun. I should have taken a much closer look at the stone this was growing on because this lichen likes alkaline stones like limestone, which is rare in this area. It gets its common name from the way it grows on mortar and concrete, which of course have lime in them. This lichen is the reason why very old concrete walks sometimes look yellow.

9. View From Mt. Caesar 3

One object of climbing mountains is of course the view from the summit, but so far every time I have climbed up here the sun has been shining directly at me when I look to the southwest. This makes for challenging photographic conditions, but what I saw is what I got. I’ll have to climb very early in the morning next time so the sun is at my back.

10. Mt. Monadnock from Mt. Caesar

Off to the east, Mount Monadnock looms much higher still than where you stand. It is said that Native Americans controlled Mount Caesar when Swanzey, New Hampshire was just a handful of crude cabins, and I can understand why they wouldn’t want to give up such glorious views. Mount Monadnock is famous for being the second most climbed mountain on earth after Mount Fuji in Japan.  It is also said to be the most written about, painted, and photographed mountain. I’ve taken many hundreds, and I have to say that I’m least pleased with those taken from this spot.

11. Common Toadskin Lichen aka Lasillia papulosa

As you sit on the ledges looking out over the hill tops, directly behind you, just a few feet away, is a rocky outcrop with this common toad skin lichen growing (Lasallia papulosa) on it. Though at first glance it may look like rock tripe lichen, its warty projections identify this one as common toad skin lichen. They are called pustules and if you look at the back of this lichen there will be a corresponding pit for every pustule. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present comes through. Each one of these large, flat bodies is attached to the rock at a single point.

12. Common Toadskin Lichen aka Lasillia papulosa Dry

This is what common toad skin lichen looks like when it is dry, and I’ve included this photo so you could see the dramatic color changes that many lichens go through when they dry out. Because of this it’s much easier to identify them after it has rained if they aren’t near a source of moisture. Touch is also a good way to tell if they have dried out; when dry this lichen is as crisp as a potato chip and when wet it is as pliable as a piece of cloth. The same is true with many lichens. The many black dots on this one are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) where its spores are produced.

This is only the second time I’ve gone mountain climbing in the snow, and it will probably be the last. It is much easier and safer on dry ground!

Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb. ~ Greg Child

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

NOTE: After trying for several hours I am again able to upload photos to this blog, but now the text formatting changes to what WordPress wants it to be, so I’m afraid this will have to do for now.

History tells us that Mount Caesar in Swanzey, New Hampshire was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here.

According to The History of Swanzey, New Hampshire, written in 1862, land was granted to Caesar Freeman on July 2, 1753. I’m assuming that this mountain was part of that original grant. Some believe that Caesar is buried somewhere on it.
Personally, since it is only 962 feet high I would call it a hill, but there is no clear distinction between a mountain and a hill. It certainly felt more like a mountain the day I climbed it because the trail was quite steep. My goal was the ledge in the photo below.
1. Mt. Caesar Ledges from Below

History says that these ledges were once used as a lookout by Native Americans. This photo is deceiving; the ledges are quite high up on the side of the mountain.

2. Mt. Caesar Trail

The trail was a constant, steep, uphill climb with no level areas.

3. Number 3 Made From Lichens

I’m not sure what these lichens were trying to tell me, but they had grown into the shape of a 3. The trail was nowhere near 3 miles long so they must have had something else in mind. I can’t imagine how or why they grew like this.

4. Reindeer Lichen

15-20 foot wide reindeer lichen “gardens” extended for several yards on both sides of the trail for a while. The name “Reindeer lichen” (Cladina) is used for any of several species that are eaten by reindeer or caribou. The animals kick holes in the snow to find the lichens and will feed on them all winter.

5. Stone Wall on Mt. Caesar

Many of the hills in this area were once completely cleared and used as pasture or farmland by the early settlers. Mt. Caesar is no different, and the stone walls show evidence of its history. You have to wonder if Caesar Freeman himself built these walls in the 1700s.

6. Mt. Caesar Ledges

This is what you see at the top of the trail.

7. View from Mt. Caesar

And this is the view when you stand on the ledge-looking directly south, toward Massachusetts.

8. Mt. Monadnock From Mt. Caesar

This is what you see when you follow a small trail to the east from the summit. It is Mount Monadnock, which has appeared in this blog several times. The word Monadnock is a Native American term for an isolated hill or a lone mountain that has risen above the surrounding area. At 3, 165 feet Mount Monadnock is taller than any other feature in the region and is visible from several surrounding towns.

9. Shiny Clubmoss aka Lycopodium lucidulum

Shiny (or shining) clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) is easy to identify because it grows straighter and taller than other clubmosses.

10. Log

I liked the look of this log. It might have been a standing tree in Caesar Freeman’s day.

11. Little Brown Mushrooms on Stump

Little brown mushrooms grew on a stump. Our nights have been below freezing but the days are still warm enough for mushrooms. They must last for one day and then freeze at night.

12. Reindeer Lichen

A closer look at Reindeer lichen.
According to the History of Swanzey, New Hampshire Native Americans “rendezvoused on Mt. Ceesar in 1755. From this mountain they would come down as near as they dared to the fort on Meeting-house hill and execute their war and scalp dances, and exhibit themselves in the most insulting attitudes to the people in the fort.” After many of their number were killed the settlers were forced to abandon the town, but returned several years later and built more forts.

The mountain and surrounding lands were extremely valuable to the Native Americans, called Squakheag, who lived here and they put up a mighty fight for them. In the end of course, they lost the fight. It was interesting, and a little sad, to contemplate these things as I climbed their mountain.
After Col. Henry Bouquet defeated the Ohio Indians at Bushy Run in 1763, he demanded the release of all white captives. Most of them, especially the children, had to be “bound hand and foot” and forcibly returned to white society ~James W. Loewen
Thanks for stopping in

Read Full Post »